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Photography and Set Design: The Do’s and Don'ts of Working Together

Confused about collaboration? We’ve enlisted the help of professional photographers and set designers to help you solve your shoot-day dilemmas

The relationship between photographer and set designer is one for the books. Straddling the line between independent vision and creative collaboration, the two careers have more give-and-take than fussy roommates divvying up house chores.

Whether working together in the realms of fashion, fine art or advertising, or blending all three with aplomb, photographers and designers are required to attain ESP-like communication skills in order to create a cohesive and beautiful product.

Employing the minds of photographer Catherine Losing, set designer Franco Giovanella, and the multi-talented Jack Codling, who dabbles in both fields, we discuss the ins and outs of one of the trickiest synergistic jobs in the creative arts. Place one eye on the drawing board and one behind the lens to take a dizzying peek at what it takes to weave two visual superpowers. 

Photos by Catherine Losing

DO collaborate with like-minded individuals. 

Working with individuals who share your particular vision may sound obvious, but sometimes it can seem hard to come by. This simple step can turn a difficult project into a breezy dream. 

“It’s all down to similar interests and tastes. Set designer-wise, I generally work with people who have as much interest in still life as I do. Also getting on really well helps.”Catherine Losing, Photographer

Photo by Catherine Losing

DON’T skip your homework

Doing your research and packing your case properly will increase your confidence and capability ten-fold. Ranging from months of planning and mood boards, to a conference call or two, pre-shoot conversation and planning are necessary for smooth execution. It always helps to be over-prepared.

“Planning and preparation before the shoot is key. By the time it comes to shoot day, everyone has a good idea of what is going to happen.”Catherine Losing, Photographer

Photo by Jack Colding

DO clearly express your creative vision.

While communication and research are crucial, a clear artistic vision will set you apart. Not only is it the seed to an aesthetically pleasing product, but it will ideally push boundaries, break creative goals and develop your career as an individual artist. 

“It’s so important that everybody knows the creative direction of the shoot on a set design project. I like to make my vision as real as possible, so when we’re on set showing the team all the mood boards and mockups, they know what we are trying to create. It’s always fun to see how far we can push the brief.”Jack Codling, Photographer

Photos by Jack Codling

DON’T underestimate social media for collaboration.

Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, whatever your poison may be, cultivating a solid online presence is a great way to get your work out into the world. Not only can it bring your portfolio to hands of possible employers and collaborators from around the globe, but it can be a great digital mood board for prepping shoots with far away clients.

“I love Pinterest as a format for prepping shoots. It brings a lot of elements together and helps the client understand the vision a bit more clearly than just using words. I love being able to have online contact with creatives. I’m able to shoot for different countries so easily and work with them to create images.”Jack Codling, Photographer

Photo by Jack Codling

DO watch how your contemporaries work.

Make friends with the other creatives in your field and take the opportunity to absorb their knowledge when you can. Not only does it contribute to a community of knowledgeable individuals but you’ll see your work evolve.

“I assist other photographers often and I find that you learn a lot from watching others work as everybody has a different way of doing things. I’ve definitely learnt a lot about communication which informs my practice in a really positive way.”Jack Codling, Photographer

Photo by Franco Giovanella

DON’T silo yourself when it comes to learning.

Sure, you’ve been hired for a specific job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about the other positions contributing to the project. Having a better sense of all the workings of a shoot will allow for more informed work and can make far-out ideas possible. Expanding your mind is for professionals too, you know.

“You need to learn from all professionals on the team. There’s a reason they’re working there so take advantage of that. Aside from that, there will always be people who know the product or brand better than you. Listen to them.”Franco Giovanella, Set Designer

Photo by Franco Giovanella

DO remember that there really isn’t an “i” in “team.”

Switching your focus away from the individual and towards a group mentality will make any adjustments, compromises or critiques less personal and more practical. This not only will help with professionalism and aid in the end goal, but will also make the experience more fun, and who doesn’t want that?

“It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, also perhaps push you a little further or in a direction you wouldn’t normally explore. All the people I collaborate with are good friends, so regardless of the job, it’s nice to have a buddy on set.”Catherine Losing, Photographer

Photos by Franco Giovanella

DO get friendly with your collaborators.

Similar to surrounding yourself with people who share similar creative visions, employing a group of individuals who you respect as humans is integral to harbouring a positive work environment. It’s also beneficial for comfort and openness, which brings about experimental ideas.

“I think the best advice that I’ve been given and put into practice is surrounding yourself with a team that you love and aspire to work with. Having a team who are really wanting to be there to help create something amazing allows for a great atmosphere, which is vital for how the shoot is going to turn out.”Jack Codling, Photographer

Photo by Catherine Losing

DON’T let your ego get in the way

You’ve been hired for a job, and the work you do is important. That said, you’re part of a team and sometimes sacrifices need to be made to execute the final product. Sometimes the scraps on the cutting room floor are your brilliant ideas. Understanding that you are a critical part of a greater creative machine will allow for these bumps and bruises to be handled with professionalism.

“My work is part of something bigger, and you need to be able to see that big picture. You are not working for yourself only, but for a group of professionals. Think of it as a product on the market. It must have a good handle and work properly.”Franco Giovanella, Set Designer

Catherine Losing’s Online Portfolio
Franco Giovanella’s Online Portfolio
Jack Codling’s Online Portfolio

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